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How to brief your crew

Last month, we investigated what makes a good briefing for passengers coming aboard your boat. But what do your crew members – responsible for running the vessel – need to know?

Ensure your crew wear a suitable lifejacket

Photo: RNLI/Nathan Williams

Ensure your crew wear a suitable lifejacket

RNLI Lifeboat Trainer Gemma Gill teaches our lifesavers how to deliver effective pre-launch briefings at any time of day or night, and in all weather conditions. She explains why it’s crucial for helms of all vessels to make crew briefings a regular part of your journeys on the water: ‘A passenger is expected to enjoy themselves safely, whereas a crew member is expected to carry out tasks safely. To do that, a crew need to be familiar with their boat, and its equipment.

‘At the RNLI, a crew briefing takes a structured format known as SMEAC: situation, mission, execution, administration and communication. Other agencies such as the coastguard and fire service use this format too.

‘An SMEAC covers all bases of a journey and is a good place to start aboard your own boat. SMEAC briefs cover everything a crew needs: a safety briefing, a review of the boat layout, where safety equipment is stowed, crew roles for the day, and establishing emergency procedures – to name a few.’

Sound like a lot to remember? It needn’t be! As Gemma explains, the important thing to understand is that crew briefings are timely, relevant and brief.

RNLI Lifeboat Trainer Gemma Gill
RNLI Lifeboat Trainer Gemma Gill

Gemma's checklist of essential points your crew should know before heading out onto water:

1. Assign roles

Everyone has a part to play as a crew member, so allocate them role-specific duties for each part of the journey – such as when you’re putting up the sail, picking up a buoy or coming alongside.

2. Be clear and brief

Briefings don’t need to be long – include key points only. A good brief is timely, specific and relevant to the point you are in your journey and to the crew member’s role.

3. Get familiar with equipment

Ensure each crew member knows where to find the equipment they need for their role – and how to use it. They may have been trained in using flares, for example, but not the type you carry on your boat.

4. Keep information relevant 

If your crew member is going to be working the deck, show them the equipment there – such as the winches and lines – and where everything is stowed (including, of course, the kettle!).

5. Brief little and often

A safety brief should be given at the start of a trip, and others should be delivered when they are timely – for example, give your brief on line set-up just before you come alongside.

Get more information, crew checklists and template briefing sheets at The Royal Yacht Association (RYA).